Adrian Comollo: Utahns lag behind Danes and Germans in social well-being

Utah does well compared to many other states, but not compared to nations in Europe.

(Gregor Fischer | dpa via AP) Pupils attend a lesson at an elementary school in Kiel, northern Germany, Feb. 22, 2021.

Social statistics are reliable measurements of the well-being of a state’s or a nation’s population. A look at Utah’s social indicators with regard to crime, economics, education, family, health, mental health, work, etc. is illuminating. The statistics that follow are sourced from the United Nations, CIA, CDC, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, World Bank and World Health Organization.

While Utah ranks higher in many well-being indicators compared to other states, from a global standpoint, Utah’s social statistics are somewhat disturbing compared to those of two European countries. Denmark and Germany are industrialized nations that have a similar degree of economic development as Utah. GDP (gross domestic product) per capita in Utah is $51,400, Denmark’s is $60,900, and Germany’s is $46,500.

On the bright side, the divorce percentage vs. marriages rate is lower in Utah, at 38%, while in Denmark it’s 46.4%. Germany fares only slightly better at 37.7%.

Utah’s obesity rate is higher at 25.3%. Denmark’s is 19.7% and Germany’s is 22.3%. Despite that fact, life expectancy is about the same, at around 80 years, indicating that higher rates of abstinence from alcohol and tobacco are beneficial. Utah’s other social indicators, however, rank well below both those nations.

Utah’s annual murder rate is three times higher at 3.1 per 100,000, Denmark’s is 1.0, and Germany’s is 0.9. Utah’s incarceration rate is over five times higher at 390 per 100,000 with Denmark at 68 and Germany at 69.

The teen pregnancy rate (ages 15-19) is more than twice as high in Utah at 12 per 1,000, with Denmark at 5.5 and Germany at 8.0. While Utah’s abortion rate is among the lowest in the U.S. at 9.3 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, Germany’s rate is 7.8 while Denmark’s is higher at 14.3, but reporting in Utah may be low.

The suicide rate is about three times higher in Utah, at 22.7 per 100,000, with Denmark at 7.6 and Germany at 8.3. Among people ages 10-24, the rates are Utah 16.6, Denmark 4.9, and Germany 5.4.

Workplace fatalities are about four times higher in Utah. Traffic fatalities are about twice as high at 7.7 per 100,000 in Utah, with Denmark at 3.4 and Germany at 3.7. Utah’s 5.9 deaths per 1,000 live births infant mortality rate is 35% higher than Denmark’s and Germany’s 3.8%.

Paid maternity leave for working mothers in Utah is only a few weeks, while in Denmark and Germany it’s up to 12 months, part at full salary and part at half.

Paid vacation is not mandatory in Utah, with workers typically getting about two weeks, while in Germany and Denmark workers get at least four by law.

In Utah, having no health insurance is down to 10% thanks to Obamacare. Denmark and Germany, however, have universal coverage with health care quality and availability comparable to Utah’s.

The economic inequality rate, the GINI Index, in Utah is 0.427 while Denmark’s is 0.249, Germany’s is 0.311.

Yearly college tuition in Utah is $7,000 to $8,000 for residents. In Denmark, it’s basically zero for citizens, and in Germany there’s a small fee of $300 to $500.

Some argue that Utah’s statistics are impacted by a large number of immigrants. However, Utah’s immigrant population is 9% and similar to Denmark’s 8% and Germany’s 12%.

Denmark and Germany spend significantly more than Utah and the U.S. government to fund social welfare programs and consequently impose more taxes on citizens. In terms of well-being, however, it appears that such money is well-spent.

In Utah, people pay lower taxes and are theoretically free to use the savings to purchase medical and other services like child-care and student loans. However, with wages not keeping pace with inflation, student debt rising and medical costs soaring, lower-income Utahns go without such services and medium-income people accumulate debt to acquire them.

It’s time to rethink our problems and find new solutions. The “market” hasn’t solved things, and our Northern European cousins prove that Reagan’s mantra, “Government is the problem,” simply isn’t true for right-sized, human-friendly ones.

Let’s consider the numbers and come up with solutions that work. That will entail going beyond traditional thinking, but these comparisons suggest that, with a concerted effort, Utahns’ lives can be improved when we act like we’re all in this together.

Adrian Comollo (on the right)

Adrian Comollo, Lehi, received a master’s degree in philosophy from the university of Turin, Italy, and a Ph.D. in medieval Italian and Latin literature from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He has taught at Brigham Young University, Salt Lake Community College and the University of Utah.